MailSource: Joseph Keller/iMore

What you need to know

  • An email app developer says Apple has been suppressing the rankings of App Store apps that compete with Apple's own software.
  • Blix, developer of BlueMail made the accusation in a court filing today, December 20.
  • It points to an unexpected jump in the App Store rankings when it moved from 143 to 13 at the end of September.

Developer Blix, which created the BlueMail app, claims that Apple has long been suppressing the rankings of apps in the App Store that compete with its own software.

According to The Washington Post:

An email app developer says it has uncovered new data that suggests Apple has long been suppressing the rankings of apps in the App Store that compete with Apple's own offerings, according to new court filings by the developer, which sued Apple in October for patent infringement and antitrust violations.

Blix, which developed the "BlueMail" app, made the discovery only when Apple's rankings suddenly changed in its favor. At the end of September, Blix unexpectedly jumped from 143rd in Apple's ranking for mail apps to 13th. Blix had for years been highly ranked in the competing Android app stores, run by companies like Google, Samsung, Amazon and Huawei. But on Apple's iOS, where it competes with Apple's own mail app, they'd long been ranked very low.

The report claims Blix found several apps had experienced similar dramatic spikes in their rankings. Blix's own jump occurred on September 26, just two weeks after a New York Times article alleged that Apple had a system for ranking its own apps higher than competitors. Blix sued Apple in October for patent infringement and antitrust violations, in bringing the suit co-founder Ben Volach said:

"It was not an easy decision to proceed with this lawsuit against the largest tech company in the world... Blix, and its BlueMail product, are the latest in Apple's long line of victims. Apple's monopoly over app distribution forecloses competition and harms consumers. Apple has also harmed additional developers who would otherwise compete fairly..."

He claims that Blix is a particular threat to Apple because its BlueMail app appeals to everyday consumers thanks to its richness in features, compared to the "bare-bones" Mail app on iOS, and its cross-platform compatibility.

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Apple removed BlueMail from its App Store over concerns it was a duplication of TypeApp, also owned by Blix. In its filing, Blix says it took down TypeApp before launching BlueMail, and further cited examples where other developers, such as Telegram were permitted to duplicate apps.

Blix further says that "barriers" put in the way of users to prevent them from downloading software directly onto their computers give Apple an unfair advantage, giving it a "monopoly power over macOS applications". It further argues that the layout of the iOS App Store doesn't show users enough search results, only an advertisement and a "story" of its own handpicked apps. Users must scroll further to find other search results. By contrast, Google's Play Store eight apps in its search results at first glance.

It also notes that Apple's apps are the only ones on its App Store without ratings after Apple removed them. More worryingly, it also suggests that Apple intentionally highlighted apps with lower ratings, in order to confuse customers and make them think that there were only low-quality alternatives to Apple's Mail app.

In the suit, Blix states:

"Apple has crippled true competition for its default apps through a 'thousand different cuts.' This is illegal and must be stopped."

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